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Lakeridge graduate Cushing ranks among digital giants

He is named to 'The Digital 50' listing in the 'Hollywood Reporter'
by: SUBMITTED PHOTO, SEAN CUSHING

When Sean Cushing saw his name among the 'The Digital 50' listing in 'The Hollywood Reporter,' he had this reaction:

'It's a little absurd, obviously.'

Cushing said that because many of the names on the list are absolute giants in entertainment technology - Steve Jobs, Peter Jackson, Robert Zemeckis, Barry Diller, Mark Cuban, Brad Bird.

In comparison, Cushing is just a young guy who graduated from Lakeridge High School in 1992.

But ab-surd?

No way.

As executive producer for Pixel Liberation Front, Cush-ing has been a leader in visual ef-fects; especially with previsualization, a technology that is rapidly becoming a common practice in the movie industry, and another, motion capture, which could soon be attaining similar status.

He has contributed to such major productions as 'Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow,' 'Superman Returns' and 'Spider-Man 3.' Up-coming in 2008 is 'Iron Man.'

Maybe it's his Oregon background, but Cushing in no way fits the stereotype of the entertainment producer blowing his own horn. Of his fortuitous joining of PLF in 2001, he said, 'I had the skills they were looking for and I lucked out with my timing.'

Yet Cushing has produced outstanding results at whatever place he has been in life.

At Lakeridge he played soccer, sang in the choir, had a lot of friends, and did 'OK' academically. It takes a little prodding for him to say, 'Well, I guess my parents would like it said that I was valedictorian.'

From Lakeridge, Cushing went on to Stanford University, where he earned a degree in mechanical engineering. His first job out of college was designing fountains in Las Vegas for a company called Wet Designs. His next stop was Los Angeles, where he worked for Reel Effects, doing special effects designs that were modeled in a computer.

In 2001 Cushing joined PLF, a company that is changing the way movies are made, and the big key is its leadership in previsualization.

'Previs is like a 3-D movie version of a live action sequence,' Cushing said. 'You can see the sequence prior to shooting.'

For a while, it was difficult for PLF and company founder Colin Green to convince Hollywood that previs was necessary. But they did.

'Now it's an assumed part of movie making,' Cushing said. 'It's considered just as necessary as having a production designer. It's moving in the direction where every movie will have previs.'

Of course, now that previsualization has caught on so strongly, nine or ten other companies have entered the field. But Cushing expects PLF to maintain its eminence in the field.

'PLF has a unique position,' he said. 'We don't just do movies. We do video games or any medium that uses digital technology. Our work has a broad nature.

'It's like, 'Wow, we use a lot of different tools. We're on the cutting edge.' '

One big reason PLF is on the cutting edge is that it owns the technology of motion capture, a method of digitally recording movements, which can also be used in the sports and medical fields. Upcoming epics that will be using motion capture include 'Beowulf' and James ('Titanic') Cameron's 'Avatar.'

'Motion capture means that a lot of movies are going to be made in different styles,' Cushing said. 'Some day it could be just an accepted part of moviemaking, just like previs.'

While Cushing is a bit abashed by being on the digital 'giants' list - he's ranked No. 36 - he says, 'It's a honor. It's fun and enjoyable. My wife Laura nominated me for it. Who knew I would get it? I have to accept it with a lot of humility.'

Despite the success and recognition, being part of an entertainment revolution is not an easy gig.

That is why it was so good for Cushing to come back to Lake Oswego at Christmas to visit his parents Doug and Judy Cushing.

'The entertainment industry is fun, but it is a lot of work and time. It's nice to come home and relax,' he said.